October 23rd, 2008
09:00 AM ET

If the car breaks down and the dealer is shut down, what next?

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2008/images/10/22/art.chrysler.jpg]
Paul Varian
CNN Executive Producer, "The Row"

The national economic crisis has now hit home for me.

My 1999 Dodge Intrepid has been in the shop at the nearest Chrysler Jeep Dodge dealership, newly opened within the last two years. I've had good service there but now I need a major engine overhaul and the chief mechanic was trying to get Chrysler to pick up the tab for the engine.

I've been driving a rental car for the past 12 days and had started to look for a new car. I decided to return the rental car today because I was afraid I was going to get stuck with that fee, which had just reached $400. I decided to swing by the dealership on the way to get an update on my Intrepid - and maybe pick up a loaner - but couldn't get in.

It was under padlock, shut down by court order. I'm assuming it's gone belly-up, just as a Chevrolet dealership chain in the Atlanta area had a few weeks ago. There was a name and phone number taped on the door for customers to call. I’ve called repeatedly but keep getting one of those recordings about all circuits being busy.

A few men who work in the shop were waiting in the parking lot to talk to the chief mechanic - the same guy I've been dealing with - about their immediate future. Their boss - his name is Mike - had been very busy lately working to expedite his dealer's merger with another Chrysler dealer recently shut down. The mechanics from that place just moved to this place. Now, apparently, they're all out of work. Not sure about Mike.

At this point, I'd just like to get my car back so I can donate it to charity and get a tax deduction. Or I'd be happy to let the bank that apparently foreclosed on the dealership buy it for a reasonable price. It's only got 70,000 miles on it and should not be experiencing engine problems since I religiously have gotten the oil changed on schedule over the years.

I used to cover the auto industry as a reporter and have been following news reports of Detroit's current tribulations with interest and a little concern. General Motors, which is itself hurting in a big way, is talking with Chrysler about a merger. The discussions don't seem to be going anywhere, though, and Chrysler also is talking with Nissan about a partnership of some kind like Nissan already has with the French automaker Renault.

The New York Times story about Kirk Kerkorian pulling his big stake at Ford gave me the shivers. It painted a picture of something approaching a final demise for one or more of Detroit's Big Three.

The auto industry has always been a bellwether of the nation's economy, and it has not been in doldrums this deep in my lifetime. What's to be?

Filed under: 360° Radar • Economy • Paul Varian
soundoff (23 Responses)
  1. Doug

    It's so funny the people that say to buy Japanese are the ones complaining that their jobs are going overseas. It's the union that destroyed this country's jobs. Most of the new plants are being built in the south paying reasonable wages and are non union. Those jobs aren't going overseas. It's because the people in the north that are putting bolts in cars all day long making 50k out of high school when people out of 4 years of college are making 30k in their 1st job. The union makes no concessions and ends up driving jobs out of the country because the automakers cant afford wages anymore. It's also so entertaining to see so much "I deserve it" therefore you need to pay me what I want mentality. How come when given opportunity no one is willing to put in the extra effort. Do you know that you are an employee, they make money off your efforts. That is what businesses do. They are in business to make a profit, and because they make a profit they can continue to employ you. If they do not make a profit off your work, they don't need to continue to employ you. They do not owe you anything other that paying you for your efforts. Everyone has bought into the idea that companies have a responsibility to their employees, I'm sorry but its the other way around, or they will find other people to replace you in a heartbeat. You need to make yourself indespensible by doing more than is required of you and going the extra mile. Then you will be compensated fairly.

    October 24, 2008 at 12:39 pm |
  2. Charles

    Why can't we have more of the newer efficent diesels they have elsewhere on the planet. Why am I forced to drive an 86 Mercedes Benz on vegoil for free and not have diesel option in newer car models.

    October 24, 2008 at 10:24 am |
  3. Bernard

    This is definitely a terrible situation for many of the parties involved. Sir I'm am sorry for your misfortune with your vehicle. The answer is not to buy Asian cars–that's funny Ray. You are definitely better off buying a car from a dealer that has a track record of providing excellent service to their customers. If the dealership is new, you should do research to see whether or not it is part of a larger dealer group and check the group's track record. If it is not part of a reputable group and you chose to buy anyway, get the best extended warranty you can afford. Paul, a '99 vehicle no matter want brand it is, is liable to have some issues. That vehicle is nine or maybe 10 years old depending on the date it was built and originally purchased...could have been early 1998...
    aww forget it. The bigger issue here is the economy and the fact that banks are falling face first and there are an estimated seven hendred car dealers that will fold this year. Paul yours is a minor casualty, many people lost the ability to feed their families when that dealership closed it's doors for good. Not to sound insensitive, but we are just in over our heads here and inevitably things are correcting themsleves. Many more people will lose jobs. If their cars aren't locked in a closed down dealership, the banks may repo it. blah blah blah blah blah, you get my point. Sorry Paul, I sincerely am. I'm just frustrated like most of us.

    October 24, 2008 at 10:18 am |
  4. RON

    I run an auto salvage yard in cincinnati and we have around 15 to 20 of these types of cars in the yard.Nice cars with relativley low miles,all with 2.7 engines that are bad.this is not to mention the cars i have dissposed of (crushed)with the same problem.

    October 24, 2008 at 10:05 am |
  5. Tod

    The auto companies should stop hiring smokers. That would save billions in health care costs and make the companies much more productive. You're welcome.

    October 24, 2008 at 9:09 am |
  6. JDC

    I want to puke when I hear all the UAW flunkies crying about their jobs disappearing. They drove domestic auto production out of the US with outrageous contract demands. Now, their lucrative jobs are gone forever. And most of s couldn't afford to buy their junk, anyway!

    October 24, 2008 at 8:59 am |
  7. JF

    The first thing that came to my mind was, go in and get it. Then that would be a crime, as the keeping of the car is not. Doesn't seem right.

    October 24, 2008 at 8:48 am |
  8. M J

    Just buy a Toyota or Honda. We know the quality is better, but did you know that more of the components are actually manufactured in America than from the Big 3? That's right! The imports actually purchase a higher percentage of their component parts from American distributors than our "American made" cars, and most of the "imports" are also assembled here.

    October 24, 2008 at 4:34 am |
  9. Ray

    Buy Asian cars and you won't have to put up with this CRAP!

    October 23, 2008 at 4:41 pm |
  10. Mike

    If Chrysler was smart enough to merge with Nissan and sell the Chrysler brand as a introduction to luxury for people looking to buy a car for an economical reason that comes with luxury and comfort,safety, reliability. This will help Chrysler, You might ask Why? Well chrysler makes good rigid cars but engine and transmission performance is bad. Nissan on the other hand has good cars all around, but is known for engine and transmissons that last a long time. Why not take both companies and merge them, scale down their model line-ups and let Nissan concetrate on the engines and Transmissions , while chrysler makes a very rigid and safe body structure for the vehicle. So in the end we have a dodge Viper which would have a japanese engine with big muscle cylinders,a japanese transmission, and a nissan- chrysler infused design, but the body made rigidly strong in detroit. In the end Chrysler and Nissan will both end up winners for a long time to come.
    GM should merge with Honda and Toyota and Suzuki and this will help GM come up with alternative ways to have a stable Market Ground world wide, especially in countries that have rugged terain and GM could emerge a Winner if these Companies form a joint partnership. If GM and Chrysler merge this will last for a short time and long term effects will hurt shareholders and investors around the world. I dont think people know but Honda makes a V6 Engine for the Saturn Vue in which GM provides parts to Honda in Europe. So these mergers would be a great thing to happen, just it has to be planned out and we need to have a good blueprint. Thanks for reading my comments.


    October 23, 2008 at 3:43 pm |
  11. bob in Dover, DE

    ok first question
    You bought a Chrysler? heh

    Second you probably have little or no recourse you will just have to wait until the vehicle is released but what you want to do is be one of the first people to file a claim against the dealer for all your costs.

    The thing is they gave you no notice which can make the owner independently liable even though they are a corporation.

    But it goes to show you just how bad things are.

    The unfortunate thing for you is they didnt give you a loaner car off the lot. You probably could have ended up keeping it if they did.

    So go file an open claim against them to recover your costs for rental right now in small claims court and request return of your vehicle within the documents but dont sue for its value if it is higher then the court limit.

    you will probably need to go to superior court for your vehicle

    It is very important that you do this now. dont wait untill all their suppliers get in there before you.

    And dont feel bad about it because they should have given you notice and the option to have your vehicle towed to another repair shop.

    Your car is not their property

    October 23, 2008 at 2:12 pm |
  12. Bubba

    There are plenty of cars in the US, and they are still making them overseas if we run out. I suspect all our automakers and aviation companies will be out of business pretty quick. I have two cars, John McCain has seventeen. Plenty to go around.

    October 23, 2008 at 1:57 pm |
  13. John

    Hmmm I am willing to bet that this guy's Intrepid had the old 2.7L engine in it. These are junk, if you don't change your oil early you don't even stand a chance with this engine. When American car makers are making junk like this it is hard not to change to European engineering. When will the Detroit 3 realize Americans are demanding better quality?

    October 23, 2008 at 1:38 pm |
  14. DavivdDee

    For years Detroit fought the Fed on safety and emission regs, got us to buy oversized and inefficient cars, said that they would bounce back with new models that were better than the imports, but like the Republican party it was all lies to feed the corporate fat cats. I never heard of a import car manufacture asking to kill or delay regulations, they said "you want cleaner more efficient cars, we can do that'. Just look at all the Japanese hybrids. Now the economy has tanked, thank the corporate fat cats, and the American auto industry is whining "please save us". Its OK for the banks to get help, but the auto industry, that needs some long thought.

    October 23, 2008 at 1:01 pm |
  15. grandma lorraine- washington state

    Scarey – and suppose it was the guy's ONLY car and he couldn't afford to rent a car or buy another one? What would he do?? Most of us are really feeling the impact of this economy in a bad way and we desperately need a change and to get back on the right track FAST!!!! The past 8 years have really torn our beloved country down and we don't need a continuation of the same old policies – be careful who you vote for!!

    October 23, 2008 at 1:00 pm |
  16. Larry

    I wouldn't worry. Once obama is POTUS he'll have us all riding bicycles instead of cars.

    October 23, 2008 at 12:56 pm |
  17. Teresa Chicago

    Few years ago I paid prepayment 1000 dollars for PT Cruiser since those cars was not available yet on the market. Dealer told me that waiting list is 3-4 months., so I was waiting. On meantime dealer was bankrupt and Chrysler said that they have nothing to do with this. Since that I never prepaid anything . I loose my support to buy American car .Irresponsible way they handle consumer is bad. I lost my 1000$ ......and learn a lot

    October 23, 2008 at 12:04 pm |
  18. Marcy

    My uncle works at Uniroyal a tire manufacture they have recently shut the plant down for 3 weeks. Not layoffs mind you just a work stoppage apparently they were putting out more tires than were needed. His son works at the new (a few years old) Hyundai plant, and his other son works at a plant in Tuscaloosa doing similar work. This thing could get worse before it gets better and the little guys at the bottom are always the first hit. That entire family (the main breadwinners in each) could be in trouble.

    Mobile, AL

    October 23, 2008 at 11:14 am |
  19. Cin

    Try being an employee of the the Big 3. I begged my boyffriend, now husband, not to take the job w/Chrysler when he graduated college 20 some years ago but that high starting wage sucked him in. It's been a roller coaster ride ever since. Chrysler's not talking but the media "informs" us that 30,000 Chrysler employees will be let go if GM takes over. That is just within the factories. What about all the folks you mention, at the dealerships, who will be out of work?

    I've had a GM or Chrysler car for my whole life. I advocate for buying American. I was thrilled to hear of Senator Obama's plans for supporting the Detroit automakers as a means to breathe life back into them and my communities, and improve the economy. How does 30,000 + layoffs stimulate our economy here in Flint and Detroit?

    October 23, 2008 at 11:13 am |
  20. Heather,ca

    Oh my gosh! Please keep us posted on your situation. That is terrible!

    October 23, 2008 at 11:05 am |
  21. Max

    Buy a car/truck/vehicle through a private sale.

    It is as simple as THAT.


    October 23, 2008 at 10:55 am |
  22. Tina

    They are not selling. People can't afford a new car, insurance, and tags. What I hate and think is a rip-off is the price of tags when you get a newer model. They shouldn't go up.

    October 23, 2008 at 9:19 am |
  23. Cindy

    Well Paul it seems like to me that you got the shaft big time twice. For your car only to have 70,000 miles on it and it already needs an engine rehaul then they sold you a lemon to begin with. There are lemon laws in this state you know. You should go and look into that. You may can get your money back. But seeing as they went belly up I don't know who you'd get the money back from. And secondly I guess they have your car and you have a ever increasing bill on a rental. I hope that you can get them to pay that bill! Good luck!!


    October 23, 2008 at 9:13 am |